Indian restaurants cook a whack of different curries to order. Ever wonder how they do it? For sure they don’t have 25 curries simmering away in the kitchen. Nobody can run a restaurant like that. They have a secret. Indian restaurant curry base.

It’s cooked to order and it’s done using curry base. Curry base is at the heart of every Indian restaurant kitchen. Giant pots of it simmering away. Once I heard about it I started asking waiters. I met kitchen staff. I even talked about it with a chef or two. I was on the inside. Now you are too…

Never heard of curry base? Not surprising. For the longest time it was a closely guarded secret. Even now, Indian restaurant curry base recipes are carefully guarded secrets. A hint of carrot – ooohhhh. A bit of cabbage – aaahhh. A green pepper – ssshhhh. But that’s how it’s done.

Indian restaurant curry base is at the heart of indian restaurant curry

It’s a bit ridiculous. In it’s simplest form it’s just a lot of boiled onions with some spices and oil. Seriously. Cook it up and it tastes like a weak curry onion soup. Nothing to it. Not particularly tasty. But when you layer the Indian restaurant technique on top it’s magic. Something wonderful happens to that insipid onion soup. It caramelizes. The depth of flavour is – well it’s restaurant quality.

It’s not hard. It’s just a matter of rolling up your sleeves and getting it done. Chop some onions. Add some water and some seasoning and boil. Puree. Boil some more. Done.

You can get a quick lesson on cooking Indian restaurant curry here.

You use this base in recipes like Indian restaurant madras, lamb curry, jalfrezi or chicken tikka masala. Look around – there are lots of Indian restaurant curry recipes here.

Indian restaurant curry base is at the heart of indian restaurant curry

One thing to note. Indian restaurant curries are big on oil. This recipe is about as low as you can go on the oil. Don’t use less. It just won’t work. Indian restaurant curry is a lot of things but low calorie it is not.

If you want to cook Indian restaurant style curries this the first step. The real deal.

5 from 3 votes
Indian restaurant curry base is at the heart of indian restaurant curry
indian restaurant curry base
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
2 hrs
Total Time
2 hrs 15 mins
Indian restaurant curry base is the foundation for restaurant style curry. It's what makes Indian restaurant curry what it is.
Course: side
Cuisine: Indian
Servings: 12
  • 8 large onions - about 2.5 lbs peeled weight
  • 6-8 cloves garlic peeled
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp ginger coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp cumin powder
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp coriander powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 12-15 fresh cilantro stalks with leaves - roots removed
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 12 cups boiling water
  • 15 oz can diced tomatoes - one small can
Step 1
  1. Bring the water to a boil (a kettle works well for this).
  2. Quarter the onions and then break them apart into petals (roughly - two or three petals per quarter)
  3. Combine all ingredients except tomatoes, bring to a gentle boil and simmer, loosely covered, for one hour. Use a big pot!
  4. Add tomatoes, stir and simmer an additional 20 minutes
  5. Let cool slightly. Blend to smooth consistency. Make sure you remove the centre cap from the blender lid and cover the hole with a cloth or you will be cleaning the ceiling. Alternately you can use an immersion blender.
Step 2
  1. Wipe out the pot and return pureed curry base and simmer until the oil separates out - this can take an hour or more. Stir the oil back into the base. At this point you can portion out the base into 2 cup portions and freeze if desired.
Recipe Notes

If you don't want to wait an hour or more during step 2, you can safely stop after 30 minutes - it's not the end of the world.

Don't worry if you get a bit of "scum" on the surface. Just mix it back in.

This recipe makes enough for 10-12 curries (restaurant size portions)

Use within a week or freeze in 2 cup portions (one curry worth)



16 thoughts on “indian restaurant curry base

  1. Fantastic post. This will be going into my little recipe book. I would love to do more Indian style curries and I’m excited you have a selection for me to pick from. Do you have any suggestions on what spices to layer on top of this curry base?

    • Joyce – this is the first in a series of blogs on how to cook real Indian restaurant curry (well second I guess as I posted garlic ginger paste recently). In the coming weeks I will publish posts on spice mixes, techniques and some restaurant favourite curry recipes.

  2. Great post! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this! I was wondering how long can the curry base sit in the freezer before use it? And if I can cut the recipe in half, since I don’t plan to make 12 curries within a week?

    • You are very welcome. Thank you for reading it. I think you could halve the recipe without any problem. In a freezer, I think it would probably last for a couple months although I never seem to manage to keep it around that long.

    • Yes, absolutely. I do that sometimes. Cut the initial cooking time to about 45 minutes but then simmer the pureed base as in the directions.

  3. Wow this is really good I made some last night to add to some chicken that I had previously cooked and it really brought it back to life. Thank you so much for this recipe.

    • I’m glad you liked it. If you have a chance, check out the Indian restaurant curry at home post and try your hand at a curry or two.

  4. Hi,
    I made the curry base was very good
    Can I dublie the recipes or triple it.
    And do u have nice recipe for chicken korma
    Looking forward to her from you

    • Glad you liked it. You can certainly double or triple it. I’m sure they do that all the time in professional kitchens. Don’t have a korma yet but it is on my to-do list.

  5. First and foremost, thank you so much for enlightening us with this recipe!! I’m so excited to finally cook REAL Indian food at home! Those “homestyle” recipes taste nothing like what you get in a restaurant. However, when you’re boiling this curry base, is the pot covered or uncovered? Each time? I’m assuming uncovered, because you want it to concentrate, but that’s one of my little pet peeves with blog recipes, when details like this aren’t specified. Also, I’d like to put in a request for a saag curry recipe – saag’s my favorite, and I always order it at Indian restaurants, usually with lamb. 🙂 Thanks!

    • Thank you. I hope you try lots of recipes restaurant style. It’s fun once you figure it out. It’s uncovered but loosely covered would do as well. Concentrated isn’t so important here and it’s a simmer so you won’t reduce much in any case. I’m always careful to say covered or loosely covered when that’s what I mean. I will put a saag recipe on the list. I like it too!

    • Glad you found it. Took me years to figure out what I was searching for. Lots of curry recipes on the blog once you get your base made.

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